The Virtue of Freedom
by Theodore Dalrymple (April 2007)
Some years ago, before Anthony Blair became Prime Minister of the benighted islands from which I write this, a newspaper got wind of the fact that I had not had a television for nearly thirty years. Would I, it asked, watch television for a week and report to readers what I thought of it. The newspaper said it would provide me with the television.
I agreed, but on one condition: that at the end of the week, the newspaper took the television away again. The editor thought this an odd condition, but accepted it.
The television duly arrived and I plugged it in. The first programme I saw after a gap of thirty years was one of those American shows in which individuals and families expose their social pathology to the idle gaze of millions. A middle-aged, lower middle-class woman was complaining about the conduct of her three daughters, aged (if I remember right) 12, 13 and 14. They had left home, and were now - if the mother was to be believed - drug-taking prostitutes.
At this point in the narration, the presenter of the show intervened and announced that the daughters were in the studio, and asked the live audience to give them a warm welcome. The three drug-taking prostitutes aged 12, 13 and 14 duly came trippingly down the stairway of the studio set, to a storm of applause as if they were conquering heroines.
I confess that I was transfixed by this. It was both terrible and fascinating, rather like a rattlesnake. And I was soon to realise that these ‘reality’ shows (do they reflect reality or mould it?) have scouts - I cannot in all conscience call them talent scouts - everywhere, even in remote regions of the globe such as the one in which I happened to be practising medicine.
Just around the corner from my hospital lived a man notorious for his drinking, which led to various medical crises. On a bed, he resembled nothing so much as a beached whale. One day I was called to his house because he was reported to be dying. I rushed round as fast as I could, only to be told by one of his daughters that I could f… off, I wasn’t needed any more. In the meantime, apparently, he had revived.
He had three daughters, who were as cetacean in their body habitus as he. A reality show in the
A short while later, my wife and I happened to watch an interview by a minor and singularly silly comedian of a man who called himself Tony Blair. We had never seen him before, and what he said was so trivial and facile, and his appearance on such a show was so completely undignified, that we assumed that it was someone imitating the well-known politician of that name rather than the man himself. It was only later that we discovered that it was indeed the future leader of our country, and no mere impersonator of him; we were not reassured.
It might be argued that, in a demotic age, politicians have to consent to indignities if they are to be elected; if so, it is hardly surprising that we repeatedly elect nonentities distinguished only for their ambition and relentless pursuit of office. Unfortunately, mediocrity and ambition often combine with vast self-regard; and there is no better example of it than Anthony Blair.
It is not appreciated in
It would be almost correct to call Mr Blair a fascist, were it not for the fact that he is completely unaware of it, and the notion of an unconscious fascist seems ridiculous. His emphasis on youth as the source of all wisdom and strength is reminiscent of Mussolini (he is slightly less emphatic about it these days, now that he has aged so considerably); his notion of the Third Way (something that is neither capitalism nor communism) has distinctly fascistic overtones, and reminds one of that very great political philosopher, Juan Domingo Peron; and he once claimed the Labour Party, of which he is the leader, is ‘the political wing of the British people,’ which is less than reassuring for the 75 per cent of the British adult population who did not vote for him at the last election. (This cardinal fact, incidentally, has never really obtruded very much on his consciousness, or given him pause to wonder whether, on the basis of such slender support, he has the moral authority to change society in whatever way he thinks best.)
I don’t mean that
The latest mad - and extremely bad, vicious, totalitarian - proposal by Mr Blair is that every British child should be screened for criminal tendencies before they have developed. Once the statistical stigmata have been discovered, the child will be handed over to the experts who will carry out their ‘interventions’ to prevent further criminalisation. The state, in short, will repair the damage that the social structure that it has so assiduously fostered and encouraged over the last few decades has done. This would all be beyond satire if it were not for the fact that Mr Blair and his government takes it seriously. Mr Blair is always on the lookout, not for new worlds to conquer, but for new worlds to poke his nose into and to ruin, or ruin further.
How are we to explain the obvious assault on liberty in
It is far worse than that, and more sinister because more difficult to oppose. A little coterie of evil men could, at least in principle, be opposed and defeated. But Mr Blair and his acolytes are not evil men in the sense that they perform acts which they know to be bad: they are much too accomplished at self-deception for that. They are able to present themselves, not entirely untruthfully, as motivated by a desire to do good, and thus they muddy the waters until the waters are not even translucent, let alone transparent.
Nevertheless, Mr Blair and his acolytes understand viscerally if not consciously that serious social problems are their locus standi in their drive to achieve complete control of the population. Social problems, when they are on a sufficiently large scale, create two large classes of dependents: those who are dependent on the government because of their own behaviour, and those who are employed by the government to alleviate the inevitable consequences of that behaviour. In other words, a very large vested interest is created in the continuance of the very behaviour that causes social problems.
That is why a government such as Mr Blair’s appears to be so very active in trying to solve problems, for example that of the educational failure which is prevalent in
The type of social structure from which the majority of child delinquents in
Yet the government refuses to undertake the smallest step in encouraging more stable households in the most vulnerable strata of society, very much the contrary. It will not even go so far as to recognise the most obvious truths about the social structure that it has encouraged with its policies. The reason for this is that, were it to do so, and were it as a result to take the most appropriate actions to solve the problems, the size and importance of the government would have to shrink rather than increase. And that would never do for megalomaniacs.
The assault on freedom in Britain in the name of social welfare is an illustration of something that the American founding fathers understood, but that is not very congenial to the temper of our times: that in the long run, only a population that strives for virtue (with at least a degree of success) will be able to maintain its freedom. A nation whose individuals choose vice rather than virtue as the guiding principle of their lives will not long remain free, because it will need rescuing from the consequences of its own vices.
It is that kind of society in which Mr Blair and his acolytes believe; by happy co-incidence, they also believe that they are the very men to bring it about. If it means that power has to be delivered up into their hands and the hands of the vast apparatus they direct, that every child must be surveyed for criminal tendencies and then handed over to psychologists, social workers, probation officers, counsellors, psychiatrists, and so forth, all at the expense of freedom - well, it is a price worth paying, both for those who pay it and those who do not.